Sunday, July 13, 2014

Research versus reality television

Please don't judge.  I don’t enjoy reality television, but I do enjoy reading research related to my field.  Drama is draining, I avoid it as much as possible. Research, on the other hand, is filled with facts, no drama. My magazine holder is filled with journals and that makes me happy! 

 As much as I enjoy reading research, I don't enjoy doing research myself.  When I completed my thesis, the literature review was my favorite part of the process.  I savored my time in the library, immersed in the work of others.  Less enjoyable was the process of completing my own study, crunching the numbers and interpreting the results.  The amount of work needed to complete my small, rather inconsequential study, was staggering.  Completing the process increased my appreciation and respect for those who complete well designed studies on much larger scales.  To all of the researchers out there, thank you for all of your hard work.    

I view reading research as a professional responsibility, it is a practice that supports intentional, effective teaching.  It is my responsibility to use effective, evidence based practices when working with families and children. Because I work in the field of early intervention, there is an inherent sense of urgency.  I know that the early experiences I am promoting and providing  make a significant impact during this small window of development.  I want to work with families and teams to choose interventions that will significantly change the developmental trajectory of a child. Reading research helps me stay relevant and be confident in my choices.  It helps me decide what I need to keep doing, start doing and stop doing.  I know that if my teaching looks the same as it did 20 years ago, I am not being as effective as I could be.  Of course, there are practices from 20 years ago that still have plenty of evidence supporting effectiveness, but I also need to identify those stale practices that are not research based. This can be a daunting task, it is easy to drift from implementing a new practice back to the ineffective practice.  Knowing what works and putting it into practice are two very different things.  That is why my latest reading subject has been implementation science.  Again, don't judge! 

It is much easier to stay current than it used to be.  Two things helped me amp up my research mojo, I joined DEC and I followed more researched based organizations and institutions on Twitter.  Now that I am a DEC member, research journals are delivered to my door and I can access the archives.  Researchers and policy organizations are a part of my healthy, balanced, personal learning network (PLN).  Here is a link to my Twitter list of research and policy related organizations. Here is a link to the CEC/DEC membership page. 

Now back to reality television.  Maybe I would like a reality show about researchers and peer review boards?  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ECSE App All Star: Photo Buttons

Photo Buttons by  Software Smoothie is a simple cause-effect app.  Touching the screen makes a colorful circle appear, tapping the circle reveals the picture and accompanying sound, tap the picture and it pops and disappears.  There are 21 backgrounds to choose from, with a black screen as an option.  The black screen with the colorful buttons offers nice contrast for children with visual impairments. The app comes with 54 sample buttons.  Under settings, you can select which images you want to appear.  You can create customized buttons by using the device’s camera or pulling an image from the camera roll.  You can also add a recording to the image.  Creating customized buttons was a quick and easy process once I figured out that when in landscape orientation, I had to scroll down to find the “save” button.  The app is child friendly in that it does not have any ads or in app purchases and to access the settings, you need to press and hold the icon.  A few features that would make this app even better would be the ability to organize the custom buttons and add an option to make the buttons bigger.  I also wonder how many custom buttons you can make.  I am not sure if there is a limit, I couldn't find any documentation about this on the support site.  

This app stands out from other cause/effect apps because it allows me to customize the images that are triggered by the touch.  So now I have an app option that builds visual discrimination skills, cause/effect skills, and functional vocabulary.  This app would be a good option for use with children learning English as a second language.  I can also see therapists and interventionists finding uses for this app in working on a variety of language and readiness concepts.  I look forward to hearing about how this app is being used in ECSE.  Here are a few app activity suggestions.  

Photo Buttons App Activity:  Color scavenger hunt:  Children really enjoy the novelty of popping the images and watching them disappear and going on scavenger hunts.  Create a custom scavenger hunt around targeted skills such colors.  Create buttons for a variety of colors and the numbers 1 through 5. Touch the screen until several numbers and colors are on the screen.  Students take turns choosing a number and color, finding that number of objects of the chosen color, and then popping the number and color to complete a turn.

Parent App Activity:  Nature scavenger hunt:  Encourage outdoor play and exploration by using the same method as above to create custom buttons of things in the your yard and outdoor areas.  Help your child find and talk about the items before popping the image and making it disappear.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ECSE App All Star: Breathe Think Do With Sesame

Not all children who are referred to and evaluated by our team meet the criteria for special education services.   These children were referred because they are struggling with some aspect of development and their parents are often searching for resources and support. I collect parent friendly resources on a variety of child development topics to offer these parents.  Because we evaluate infants, toddlers and preschoolers, self regulation skills are frequently a topic of discussion and concern.  When I found Breathe Think Do With Sesame, in the app store, I knew that I had found a resource to add to my Self Regulation resource list. I plan to share this app with parents, our Occupational Therapy team and Early Childhood Special Educators.  This app is a great addition to our social emotional skills toolbox.  Currently the app is free.    

The app serves two purposes.  It educates parents and caregivers about self regulation skills and it provides opportunities for children to practice the skills in a structured but engaging way.  The Parent section provides tips and strategies for several challenging issues such as separation, persistence and aggression.  This section begins with an explanation of why self regulation skills are important and provides a script of what parents can say to children who are experiencing difficulties in this area.  Finally, a specific strategy in each area is given.  In the aggression section, the strategy provided is tracing a child’s hand and helping him think of 5 gentle things he can do with his hands so he can think of that next time he is upset.  Some of the sections include video clips.  A theme throughout the tips and strategies section is the framework of breathing, planning and doing. In the settings, the app has a personalization option.  Children are prompted to say phrases that will be repeated throughout the activities such as “think of a plan”.  The language can be changed from English to Spanish in the Settings area.  

The child section has 5 activities and features a monster. Each activity starts with animation showing the monster struggling with a challenging issue.  The issues are getting on his shoes, separating from his mother, a tower of blocks that falls, waiting to use the slide on the playground, and being fearful of the dark at bedtime.  After the introduction the screen changes to the monster surrounded by red and looking anxious, upset and/or mad.  The narrator encourages the child to tap the screen to help the monster take 3 breaths through his nose and out his mouth.  The background color changes from red to blue as the narrator talks about the monster getting calmer.  

Next, the narrator prompts the child to pop bubbles to make the monster think of a plan. The monster thinks of 3 options for a plan.  The child gets to choose which plan the monster will use and watch the result.  Self regulation vocabulary, such as calm, frustrated, relaxed, and anxious are used throughout the activities.  

This app is one of many resources Sesame Street offers in the Little Children, Big Challenges toolkit.  I have bookmarked several resources from the toolkit to share with parents.  Do you have any other apps you recommend for teaching and/or practicing self regulation skills? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Engaging apps for Scribbling and Drawing

Today I am highlighting 2 apps that I would recommend to pediatric Occupational Therapists, parents and teachers of young children, and early intervention providers.  Lazoo offers two apps (currently free) that will get your most reluctant drawers and scribblers motivated to join in the fun. The apps are so engaging, I found myself wanting to try out each scene, looking forward to the animation on each page. The developers were creative in giving a purpose to the doodles and scribbles.

There is a parent section available, which as you know, earns an app bonus points in my book.  The parent section encourages parents to let their child engage in open ended play.  Parents are encouraged to comment on the drawings and examples of questions that can spark some conversations are provided.  Collaboration, creativity, and the process are emphasized.  Here is a quick description of each app.

Let's Color
The app offers over 25 different scenes.  Each scene has a written question or prompt that is read aloud as each word is highlighted.  For the example below the prompt is "These kids are playing in the mud, make it messy!".  The prompt is only read once and there does not appear to be a way to have it repeated.  There are 5 tools available to produce the drawings and there are also stickers for added embellishment. Once the masterpiece is created, the child hits the "GO!" button and watches as her artwork becomes part of the animation. Several of the scenes promote collaboration and imitation by providing more than one image so a parent, teacher or peer can work on one and the child can work on the other.  For example, in one scene the child is prompted to draw hair on a figure and there are 2 figures.

Completed picture from Lazoo's Let's Color app.


This app has several features in common with Let's Color. A friendly voice provides a prompt such as "Draw a squiggly mane to turn this kitty into a lion." In some scenes there is more than one image so a team can collaborate and imitate. The tools and the stickers are the same.  This app is different in that it provides a prompt in the form of a model of producing squiggles in the intended area and there are fewer scenes.

Completed picture from Lazoo's Squiggles! app
Give these apps a try and enjoy the process!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snowballs, embroidery hoops and the app, Faces iMake

Blizzard conditions, low of -19 degrees tomorrow morning, school closed tomorrow, likely late or closed on Tuesday, our crazy winter continues.  Perfect conditions for another winter related post.  Snowballs by Lois Ehlert is a favorite winter read for preschool teachers.  In this post, I share a few extension activities.

A traditional follow up activity to the book is an art project where children use various materials to create a collage of a snow creature similar to the book.  I loved displaying these creations, each one so unique and reflecting each student's ideas and personality.  I wanted to extend this activity by using loose parts that can be arranged and rearranged at a center. During a family gathering, my nephews and neice scoured the kitchen, junk drawer, art cabinet, toy box and yard for materials, added a few embroidery hoops and white paper, then went to work.  Different sizes of hoops were used so size concepts were discussed.  Following the theme of the book, the kids created snow moms, snow dads, snow babies and snow animals.  We took pictures of each creation and planned to create a digital book, retelling the story, but we didn't get that done.  It was acutally nice out so we went outside and played in the snow instead!

The second extension involves a "go to App" on my iPad, Faces iMake.  It is a great creative outlet and is a perfect match for the Snowballs theme.  Kids can create snow people and snow animals using a variety of vocabulary building props available on the app.  The app can be customized by using the camera option.  Pictures can be imported from the camera roll or taken with the camera.  Using a pencil eraser, the object can be cropped from the background and used in the collage. It is easy to resize and rotate objects, and objects can be locked and moved to the front or back.  Once again, the children can take pictures of their creations to share with others.  I enjoyed the video tutorials available on the app as well.  This app offers great features for the price and promotes creativity and vocabulary building.  For those of you in my region, stay warm, stay safe and think Spring!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mitten matching on Explain Everything

People in Minnesota are using the term “stupid cold” to describe the weather we will be experiencing over the next 2 days.  Tomorrow’s forecast is a high of -18 degrees, low of -28 degrees, with wind chills of 50 below zero.  Our state will experience over 60 hours of below zero temperatures.  On Friday, the Governor closed schools statewide for Monday.  It is cold.  I thought it would be appropriate to put together a post about a mitten matching activity I created using Explain Everything.  My previous post on using Explain Everything for story retelling gives more details about how to use the app. 

When I had a classroom, I offered a mitten matching activity using a clothesline, clothespins and children’s mittens.  It was great fine motor practice.  I usually had some students who struggled with the fine motor aspect of using a clothespin, so I adapted the clothespins, had an alternative  clothesline with velcro, and sometimes had the student match the mittens by pairing them on the table or floor rather than hang them.  This iPad activity would be yet another alternative for accessing this type of activity.  A fun variation of this activity would be to take pictures of your students' mittens and use those as the matching items. 

This video was created using the app Explain Everything and gives a brief overview of how I created the activity.  

I drew the clothesline using the writing tool.  I found the images on Google and saved the images to my camera roll.  I pulled the images into the slide and used the lasso cropping tool to crop the images out of the background.  I locked the clothesline and the mittens hanging on the line.  I locked the scale of the the mittens that will be manipulated by the students.  The locking function is activated by tapping square with an i on the left hand side, then tapping the object.  Everyone stay warm and stay safe. 

Tapping the information icon brings up this menu which includes the lock function.